How Prevalent is Stunted Growth?

Millions of children around the world suffer from undernutrition. It is defined by UNICEF as a diet bereft of the calories and proteins necessary for growth and bodily maintenance, or the inability to utilize the nutrients in food due to an illness. This undernutrition is the cause of death of 5.6 million children in the developing world annually. And it is largely responsible for the stunted growth of millions of others.

Stunted growth, or low-height for age, can be attributed to a number of factors including infection, parasites, and, as mentioned, undernutrition. While these factors are not explicitly related, they are each correlated with lower incomes and poverty. Moreover, as a result of these conditions, particularly during the early years of a child’s life, he or she may not receive the nutrients necessary for proper development.

Stunting could begin as early as gestation in the womb, and has lifelong consequences as a “chronic restriction of a child’s growth.” Children with stunted growth have restricted brain development, preventing them from achieving their full potential in schooling and the workforce thereafter. In terms of disease, stunting puts children at a greater risk of dying from infection.

The countries in the world with the highest prevalence of stunted growth include Peru, India, Ethiopia, and Vietnam. These countries have risen to the challenge of preventing stunted growth in their children, like Peru with its “5 by 5 by 5” program. This specific program aimed to “reduce stunting in children under 5 by 5 percent in 5 years” by following simple steps like bettering women’s nutrition, encouraging breastfeeding, providing vitamins and nutrient-rich foods, and so on. The success has been widespread in Peru and elsewhere. By 2011, stunting in Ethiopia was reduced from 57% to 44% in children below the age of 5.

– Lina Saud 

Sources: Do Something, World Food Programme, UNICEF, Princeton Publications
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